Telling high-achieving kids that they are smart and talented may seem like a good idea, but according to this article from Scientific American magazine, attributing good grades to natural ability and talent can actually squelch students’ motivation when they run into harder problems.
We have written in this blog about this idea before, when researcher Carol S. Dweck put out her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck groups kids into two categories: those with a fixed mindset who believe that achievement is directly related to natural talent, and those with a growth mindset who think success is a result of effort and hard work. Since natural talent isn’t something that can be improved, the kids with a fixed mindset are more likely to get frustrated and give up when their natural ability starts to fail them, while the kids with a growth mindset are motivated to keep trying, since they perceive that they are capable of overcoming the problem by putting in a greater amount of effort.
In the article, she talks about how when the kids with fixed mindsets were taught how to think with a growth mindset, they began to “see themselves as agents of their own brain development.” One kid even asked, “You mean I don’t have to be dumb?” Students who previously showed little interest or concern for their school work began putting in extra hours to complete assignments. Teachers, who were unaware of which students were in the growth mindset classes, began to notice the results almost immediately.
This is a great counterpoint to those folks who believe that motivation is just something kids are born with or without. Simply by encouraging students to think about and approach difficult subject matter differently, researchers were able to motivate seemingly uncaring students to put more effort into studying.
This article is a little lengthy, but it’s well worth the read if you get a chance.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.